More VR Noodling

For the past couple of nights I’ve been using the Meta Quest 2 for my ‘workouts’ and the Rift S for VR gaming. I really have very few complaints about the Quest 2. Yes, the image quality isn’t as sharp as PC VR games but that was something I was fully aware of going in. It’s a question of a mobile processor vs a beefy GPU in the PC.

I have prescription lens inserts for it so glasses aren’t an issue and a third party strap for additional comfort over what came in the box. I also got a nicer interface (the bit that presses against your face) that is easy to clean after a sweaty session.

The Rift S is actually quite comfortable but it is of course a tethered solution. For me that means running a cable from my gaming PC located in the corner, across the room to the spot in front of the TV where I have clear space for VRing. (Is VR a verb?) It’s a pretty beefy cable that eventually splits into 2 at the PC: one strand for display port and the other a USB cable. It’s kind of a hassle because the cable will knock things off tables and stuff as I route it around loveseats, lamps and doggos.

Additionally I don’t have prescription lenses for the Rift S so I have to cram my glasses in there which, honestly, isn’t THAT big a deal once I got used to it. And I could always order a set of lenses.

But the Rift S is older tech. It has a lower resolution (1,440 x 1,280/eye) than the Quest 2 (1,832 x 1,920/eye) and a lower refresh rate (80 Hz vs 120Hz for the Quest 2).

So tonight I decided to try out linking the Quest 2 to the PC. Originally this required a long USB-C cable that was fairly expensive ($80 from Meta) but a while back some clever person figured out how to do this link via WiFi. Originally it was kind of a hack but at some point Meta added it to the software.

I’m pretty old school when it comes to WiFi and gaming. In other words, I’m a skeptic. I have all my gaming consoles and my PC hardwired to Ethernet. But before I spent $80 on a Link Cable I decided to try it “Air Link” as it is called. It was pretty easy to do. I ran into 2 issues. First was I had the Oculus app on my PC enrolled in a ‘Public Test Channel’ and had to back out of that for some reason. Second was that I had disabled the Oculus Virtual Audio device when I was futzing with sound issues. Without that the Quest 2 got no sound.

Once those two very minor issues were sorted, it just kind of worked. You put on the Quest 2 and you see your usual Quest 2 UI. Then you go into settings and turn on the Link and you get the Oculus PC UI. I fired up the PCVR game I’ve been playing and off I went. Tetherless PCVR gaming, yay!

Or mostly yay. It ran pretty smoothly until it didn’t. At one point I had a little glitch where I hit a pocket of lag and then everything caught up. Normally this wouldn’t have been too big an issue but in VR it was pretty nauseating. It only happened once but I was only testing (aka hacking undead skeletal soldiers with a broadsword) for 30 minutes or so. So we’ll see.

I do think if the Air Link doesn’t work out, I may spring for that $80 cable so I can just retire the Rift S. Maybe find someone to sell it too. It’s kind of silly to have both when the Quest 2 can cover all bases.

What I haven’t tried yet is Steam VR with any of this; that’s the next thing on my list to get sorted.

VR “Workouts”

So now I’m into VR again.

I’m honestly not sure how it happened. But something got a bug up my [redacted] and I updated the Quest 2 and controllers, cleared a space in the living room and fired up, what else? Beat Saber. And had fun!

And I discovered the Meta Move app, which is like a fitness tracker. I set calories burnt and ‘minutes moving’ goals and off I went.

The games I play would probably not count as a workout for a marginally fit middle-aged person, but for my old self who spends most of his time at a keyboard, I’m able to work up a decent sweat playing.

The only two games I’ve been playing are Beat Saber (which is all about cutting blocks to a beat using totally not light sabers because copyright) and The Climb, which is about mountain climbing. I don’t get why The Climb feels like exercise. You pull yourself up a rock face by your hands, but of course you’re just standing there. You’re not really carrying weight UP anywhere. And yet I get tired. Maybe just because of all the time waving my hands around over my head? But hey, it’s fun and gets my heart pumping….I’m not going to question it.

There’s a table tennis game I want to add into the rotation but since I just bought The Climb I’m waiting a bit and hoping for a sale.

After just a couple of days, the process of clearing space and getting the visor on has become routine. I’m really glad I sprang for prescription lenses for the headset as not having to fit it over glasses helps with ease of use.

I dunno if I’ll stick with it, but for now it is working and I actually tend to feel pretty good after playing. I’ve never bought into the, y’know ‘endorphins’ effect of exercise. Every time in the past I’ve decided to exercise I was left feeling like crap after. But this must be hitting the sweet spot because it is improving my mood and, dare I say it? My energy levels.

So who knows? Maybe I’ll stick with it for a while.

No screenshots cuz VR. Sorry!

Edge of Nowhere: A VR experiment that doesn’t really work

Last night I spent an hour or so playing Edge of Nowhere, a VR title from Insomniac that came out a few years ago. The premise of the game is a kind of Saturday matinee adventure tale. It is 1932 and your gal (“gal” since it is 1932, y’see) has gone missing in a remote location, along with the rest of the expedition she was with. You’re on your way to rescue her when the plane you’re in crashes (of course); undaunted you start following the trail left by the expedition.

The premise of the meta-game is, what happens when you try to do a 3rd person action game in VR. The whole game kind of feels like an experiment; one that, for me at least, ultimately failed.

The biggest problem is the way third person is handled. The camera tags along behind the character, maybe 2 meters back. You can’t manually move the camera but of course you can look around. I was playing in a swivel chair which seemed ideal. It all works OK as long as you are moving forward, but if you ever want to backtrack, big issues crop up.

So imagine you are the camera and you’re looking at a character 2 meters in front of you but facing away. That’s the default situation. Now the character turns around. You can see his face. He starts walking forward. You, the camera, start floating backwards to maintain a fixed distance. But you can’t see where the character is going, so you turn around. Now you can see where the character is going, but you can no longer see the character. Big problem. If you could move the camera even a quarter circle around the character it would’ve helped a lot.

If that was sorted it would help, but really there doesn’t seem to be much reason for this to be a VR game. You can play it with Rift controllers but it is designed to be played with a gamepad. The only motion controls are your character’s head, which strangely turns as you turn your head. So turning your head means both you look to the side and so does the character, which really only matters when you’re in a dark place using a headlamp. Then you have to swivel your head around to shine the light everywhere.

There is a LOT of climbing using pick-axes (the environment, at least at the start, is all ice and snow). I think the intent was to have these segments be harrowing but the 3rd person perspective reduces that. I’ve played plenty of VR games where looking over a cliff almost produces vertigo, but those were all 1st person. Here you can gaze down into an abyss and not feel anything more than you’d feel in a flatscreen game. It doesn’t help that at times the camera floats out over a cliff edge, reinforcing the fact that you can’t fall. In fact, if the character does fall, you just watch him. The camera doesn’t follow him down or anything.

Anyway I could go on and on. If this wasn’t a VR game, it would be a pretty shallow experience. LOTS of climbing sequences. then some sneaking past/fighting creatures. A tiny bit of exploration but mostly you just follow a path. There’ve been plenty of simple games that are made special by the addition of VR (eg Job Simulator) but here the VR doesn’t add very much.

Edge of Nowhere came out in 2016 and VR is advancing so quickly that what was probably new and innovative then just seems “OK” today. I bought it on sale for $10 and I’m not sure I’ll bother playing more than that initial hour. Word on the Internet says it is only about 4 hours long so I’m guessing I’ve seen about a quarter of it.

Update: I got stubborn and finished playing it. I had some issue with rock throwing and the controller near the end (rock throwing is a big part of the game…you use it to distract monsters so you can sneak past them) so had to finish using the Oculus controllers. So that’s another strike against the game.

In the end, nothing changed my “meh” opinion. I’m really glad I only spent $10 on it. Finished, deleted, moving on.